Columbia to Host National Native American Law Students Association Moot Court Competition

Feb. 25-26 Event Attracts 66 Teams from 30 Schools from as Far Away as Hawaii, California

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New York, Feb. 1, 2011—When it comes to laws governing Native Americans, there are often many more questions than answers. Tribal, state, and federal government regulations often get entangled when trying to sort out who has jurisdiction over what.
Out of such complexity comes opportunity, in the form of a tricky question that is the basis of this year’s National Native American Law Students Association Moot Court Competition, which will be held Feb. 25-26 at Columbia Law School.
Some 28 schools, from as far away as Oregon and Hawaii, will field 66 teams of two persons to compete. Nine of the teams will be from the Law School.
“It’s the best turnout we’ve ever had for the national competition,” said Kyle Kolb ’11, director of this year’s Competition and third-year representative of the Law School’s Native American Law Students Association, which was founded in 1989 to foster academic support for Native American students and others interested in American Indian Legal issues.
Last year’s competition, in South Dakota, had 46 teams, Kolb said, adding that holding the moot court in New York likely attracted more schools.
The problem, or fact pattern, that forms the basis for the briefs and oral arguments, concerns the extent of a tribal court’s jurisdiction over a member of another tribe who was arrested following a fight at the tribe’s casino. After being issued several civil citations, he is then subject to civil forfeiture, after drugs were found in his truck. The defendant contends the tribe has no authority to seize his property, and has taken his case to the federal courts.
“Tribes would have criminal jurisdiction [over the petitioner], but it’s not clear they would have civil jurisdiction,” Kolb said.
With one exception, all of the Columbia teams are made up of first-year students satisfying their foundation year moot court requirement. In contrast, some schools in the competition have Native American law programs, and send second- and third-year students. Kolb said, however, that has not proven to be a handicap. A Law School team won the competition in 2009, while Law School teams took first and second in the best brief category at last year’s competition.
The Law School teams get a little extra help by having as their faculty advisor, Douglas Endreson, a Lecturer-in-Law who teaches a Federal Indian Law course. Endreson, whose practice specializes in the representation of Indian and Alaskan tribes, is also the legal writing instructor for the team members.
“We definitely make a concerted effort to teach them as much as we can within the rules of the competition,” Kolb said.
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